How to write better fiction

8 ways to write better fiction

Anyone can write. Here are 8 ways to write better fiction.

#1 – To write a great story, forget all the rules and just write. Write every day. Visit the story every day, even if it’s only to write one sentence. Keep at it until you reach the end. Then edit like crazy.

#2 – Look for story and character ideas in everything you do — books you read, movies and TV programs you watch, people you talk to, and while eavesdropping in public. Being observant is a very important characteristic of a writer.

#3 – The job of each chapter is to encourage readers to want to read the next chapter. That means revealing details slowly, just enough to build suspense so the reader wants to know what will happen next.

#4 – If you allow yourself to think about all the things that go into a novel — characters, themes, place, plot(s), ending — you’ll get overwhelmed. Instead, break it down into smaller tasks. First develop the story’s theme. Then develop the characters and where the story will take place. The rest will likely come during the writing and editing process.

#5 – Write what you want to write, not what someone else recommends because it’s a popular genre.

#6 – Your research material will add depth and richness to your story. Learn to love the research process.

#7 – Don’t worry if your story isn’t long enough. The story will find its own natural length. If parts of the story need more, you’ll know it. If it has too much filler, you’ll know that too. Most readers like tight, efficient stories and don’t like rambling.

#8 – Get out into the world. Interact with it. Travel. Meet new people. It will all become part of your stories.

Eudora Welty explains why all short stories are not potential novels

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 5.53.10 PMIf you like Southern fiction, you may have read the book Conversations with Eudora Welty (I highly recommend it).

In an interview with Alice Walker (Summer of 1973), this was Welty’s reply when Walker asked if she thought all short stories were potential novels:

“No, they are two different things. I think that one of my faults as a novelist is that I don’t think as a novelist does. I think the short story is a sustained thing, all in one piece, and compact. You don’t have any of the expansion and scope that the novel can have. So any time I’ve made the mistake of writing a short story that became a novel I’ve had to go back and start at the beginning again. It’s like starting for the long jump or the short hop. You don’t have the same impulse.”

Based on my own experience, Welty is right as rain. When I wrote THE MEDIUM, a short story, and THE HERMIT BOOKSTORE, a novella, my mind’s eye naturally saw a tidy story, not a lingering show. Then this year, when I started to write my first novel, my mind’s eye saw something different — an expanded drama where the characters and story elements slowly unfold.

I enjoy reading all types of story lengths, but I especially admire writers who can pack a big story into a small space. Here are a few examples of wonderful stories packed into about 100 pages. Do you have any favorites?

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Observation is today’s writing muse . . .

Writing MuseThe basic skill of observation is today’s writing muse . . .

-The surprise of three men jogging toward me with 100 pound military camouflage packs on their backs; the middle man with sandy blonde hair and a kind face making eye contact with me and offering a “Good Morning” greeting

-The tall black man in an all-white suit and hat, carrying a brief case as he walks with his head held high toward the church I just passed

-The Park District employee working on a Sunday, picking up trash after the neighborhood festival the day before

-The noticeable absence of rooster calls the morning after the crowded neighborhood festival

-The sweet whiff of lilac from the six foot lilac bush

-The bright orange Lantana that doesn’t seem to know that California is experiencing its worse drought in 500 years

-The shockingly shallow river flowing under the bridge

-The six pigeons perched on top of the steel-frame bridge; me crossing my fingers as I walk under them, hoping they do not have to relieve themselves

-The remnant smell of skunk from the night before

-The invisible force behind me, pushing my butt up the steep hill

-The acorn, dropping at a high rate of speed from the oak tree next to me, just missing my head

-The wall of heavy humidity as I pass an enclosed grove of vegetation

-The deserted neighborhood village at 8:15 in the morning

-The stillness of the trees from a lack of breeze

-The cry of a baby

-The odor of doggie doo that someone didn’t pick up

-The thrill of seeing a newly posted ‘For Sale’ sign on the lawn of a house I’ve admired